Amy Poehler Feature

Inside Out Review: Don't Limit Yourself

Friday, June 26, 2015 Rob Samuelson

Inside Out

Directors: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Writers: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias
Rating: Four and a half stars out of five
Available now in theaters.

Filmmaking, as both a visual and aural experience, is one of the fullest forms of storytelling when utilized by people who want to show off those features. It is the mixture of showing and telling -- not to be confused with the "show, don't tell" rule -- that makes messages stick in our heads. But more importantly, that alchemy effect is potent as a teaching device, providing an emotional roadmap for how to deal with life.

And Inside Out is one of the purest expressions of how to do that. It makes the abstract real, with its concept of layering relatable life experiences from a little girl moving to a new city down to the anthropomorphic emotions inside her head dealing with their own journeys. Everything about the film is a reaction to trauma -- not the result of any sort of abuse, but of the ways life can jar your emotions when you are powerless to affect your future. For a child, being taken out of your comfort zone is a difficult and painful experience.

Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is an 11-year-old Minnesota girl whose dad gets a job in San Francisco. In her eyes, she has it made in Minnesota, with a backyard and a small pond that freezes over in the winters, great friends, and most of all, hockey. She loves (and is good at) hockey. With it being one of the most visceral, aesthetically pleasing sports, it works as one of many perfect metaphorical tools for the Pixar team to use as one layer of Riley's path to acceptance of her changed life.

But, as with most things, it is what is on the inside that counts. Inside Out expresses this brilliantly by casting some of the funniest people in the world as Riley's emotions. Amy Poehler, with her manic can-doism, is Joy. Phyllis Smith of The Office is Sadness. Bill Hader embodies Fear with some of the finest anxiety put on a screen. Lewis Black, known for his yell-speech as a stand-up comic, is the flame-headed Anger. And Mindy Kaling channels her satiric image-driven consumer character as Disgust. Together they work the controls of Riley's brain, shaped like Bridge of the Starship Enterprise, while light-filled orbs representing the girl's memories flow in and are stored in a piping system like those whooshing tubes that give you cash at a bank's drive-through.

It is in the interplay between these competing emotions that makes Riley who she is. This is not subtext but the entire point of Inside Out. As both a plot device and an expression of the change in Riley's life, both Joy and Sadness find themselves lost in the vast landscape of her subconscious, seeing what happens to memories as they fade, catching some spectacular views of the Hollywood studio producing Riley's dreams, and meeting one of Pixar's most poignant creations, Bing Bong, Riley's former imaginary friend, voiced by Richard Kind.

Bing Bong, an elephant-pink-dolphin-hybrid thing, exists on the periphery of the girl's mind, half remembered, a sign of something fuzzy and evaporating as she grows up. It's obvious this would be the case no matter what, with the imaginary friend being replaced by information and opinions -- they get so mixed up -- Riley will need to navigate the world. This is given an immense amount of weight. It makes Sadness the lynchpin of the film, because we shouldn't view the loss of these memories as close as friends as a utilitarian way station on the path to the "glories" of adulthood. We can't keep them, and we shouldn't be happy about it, something Sadness must teach Joy in painful fashion.

We should cherish the things that stick with us, even if they fill us conflicting emotions all at once. Inside Out makes this point through a series of escalating, thrilling set pieces that never fail to be humorous and melancholy and hugely imaginative at the same time. It never loses sight of the grand universality of the rocky emotional terrain we all have to tread to get to a place of maturity. The touch is not necessarily light because it immerses you in the power of emotion, but it is full of grace. It is great.

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